Tool Kit Resources: Campus Models & Case Studies

The Global Distinction Program at Howard Community College and the Community College of Baltimore County infuses core classes with global content and perspectives. (Photo courtesy of Howard Community College)

Graduating and Transferring Community College Students with Greater Global Awareness, Perspective, and Engagement


Preparing students to solve problems in an increasingly globalized century is an important task for colleges and universities, and a considerable challenge—especially for community colleges, where both students and the colleges themselves may have fewer resources to devote to expensive new global studies programs. This is true even at culturally diverse campuses like the Community College of Baltimore County (CCBC) and Howard Community College (HCC) in the highly internationalized I-95 corridor of central Maryland.

"At a college where students don't have a lot of money or a lot of free time, we can't necessarily take students out into the world, so we have to find a way to bring the world to them," said Tara Ebersole, a professor of biology at CCBC.

Faculty at both HCC and CCBC were struggling with this issue, separately—until a conference presentation brought representatives from both schools together, leading eventually to a cross-campus faculty learning community in 2009. The result of their collaboration was a more globalized general education program at both colleges and the creation of the Global Distinction program, an academic enrichment program that offers an intentionally globalized general education core, study of a world language, and global experiential learning.

Globalizing the Curriculum

Prior to forming the learning community in 2009, both colleges were working to bring more global and intercultural content into their core curricula. Each campus had an active roster of cocurricular global programming—"foods, flags, and festivals"—but they found these activities weren't reaching large numbers of students. "Those are helpful for the few students who attend those events, so you might be able to impact a few hundred students," Ebersole said. "But we have 70,000 students at our school, so that wasn't going to make enough difference."

CCBC had a "cultural appreciation" requirement as part of its general education program, but few faculty were actually assessing learning outcomes related to this requirement, and those that did saw lower performance than on other student learning outcomes. These results inspired faculty to think about how they might redefine cultural appreciation and better embed it in the curriculum. A centralized global education advisory board was formed at CCBC, with committees addressing curriculum, professional development, and communications.

Meanwhile, Jean Svacina, associate chair of English and World Languages at HCC, was conducting faculty workshops as part of an initiative to add more global perspective to core classes. The idea was to incorporate different degrees of globalization into the various courses students were already required to take. Mary Beth Furst, an assistant professor of business, described the initiative. "You could include a single global objective in a course—that would be a way to get to the majority of students and at least get them some exposure. We thought to take it a little further and have different levels of globalization within different courses."

Some courses—language or world literature courses, for example—lend themselves easily to full globalization. "But how do you take courses that are not global by nature and give global options to teachers, as well as options to students?" Furst asked. Stacy Korbelak, an assistant professor of English and now global coordinator at HCC, was teaching out of a reader that provided controversial subjects for students to write about in her composition class. But the articles in the reader were all focused on the US, she said. After attending one of the workshops, she scrapped the reader and put together a portfolio of online articles from the New York Times and other sources, all focused on global issues.

Faculty were incorporating global content in similar ways at CCBC. An anatomy professor taught about various medical disorders by having students research the areas of greatest prevalence for those disorders around the world, with an emphasis on social and environmental factors that might contribute to the prevalence of the disease in those areas. Math professors at CCBC and HCC taught sections of algebra and statistics in which every word problem used real data drawn from all areas of the world. When faculty from the two colleges began sharing ways they suffused global content throughout the curriculum, they began to think about how to package these curricular changes in ways that might offer more benefits to students.

Achieving Global Distinction

Both schools knew they wanted to create a program that would offer some recognition to students who took a globally intensive curriculum, "and that meant we had to define what we meant by 'globally intensive curriculum'—we had to define what the outcomes were we hoped our student achieved, we had to create assessment tools to make sure they were achieved," Ebersole said.

The faculty eventually developed six learning outcomes for Global Distinction students: greater intercultural competency in both academic and professional areas; improved sensitivity to other languages and cultures; greater competency when dealing with people from other cultures; enhanced ability to integrate the importance of diversity, civic engagement and social responsibility in a global framework; better preparation for successful participation in a dynamic and interconnected world; and greater awareness of personal cultural norms and how they shape views and perspectives.

They also came up with a set of requirements that help students achieve these outcomes and receive the designation Global Distinction. Students must take at least fifteen credit hours of globally intensive classes; at least two semesters of study in a world language; study abroad or complete a domestic intercultural experience; attend, and write about, an international event on campus each semester; and maintain an e-portfolio summarizing and reflecting on all these experiences.

Fifteen credit hours may seem like a lot for a two-year program of study, but these are courses the students are already taking, regardless of whether or not they are vying for Global Distinction—the only difference is that in these particular sections, the skills and content of the course are presented in a global context. Requiring attendance at global or international themed events was also easy to implement, as both schools had already been hosting such events—the only new requirement was having students reflect on the experiences and document them in their e-portfolios.

The study abroad requirement presented a bigger hurdle. While both schools offered study abroad opportunities, some of which came with partial funding, "we're acutely aware of some of the challenges community college students have," Furst said. "It's not uncommon to have other responsibilities to family, and we're aware of financial restrictions. So how do we give a meaningful global experience where you're forced to be the other, to step outside of yourself, without necessarily going abroad?"

At HCC, the primary solution has been internships that focus on global issues. Some students have worked with the Columbia Association, a local nonprofit, to establish sister city relationships in other parts of the world. Another student worked at HCC's English Institute, which provides intensive English study to international students. At CCBC, students mentored younger international students, or worked with advisors to incorporate funded College Life trips or personal travel into their education program. As with the other requirements for the program, students write reflection papers about their study abroad or domestic intercultural experiences for their e-portfolios.

The push for globalization has also led to new opportunities for faculty and staff. Complementary programs give faculty and staff the chance to design globally focused projects that count toward professional development and promotion requirements. Faculty can take the time to learn more about where their students are coming from and incorporate this knowledge into their pedagogies. Svacina also described an advisor who was having trouble helping students from West Africa choose the appropriate English courses because she didn't know enough about their educational background. This advisor designed a research project to learn more about the education systems in Nigeria and Cameroon, particularly English language instruction in these countries.

Spreading the Word

Faculty at both campuses stress one takeaway: this program can be replicated on any campus, for very little money. "We did it on a shoe string, because it was really about packaging what we already had going on," Korbelak said. And there are "no add-ons," Svacina stressed, so there are no new courses required or either faculty or students. "We're teaching composition anyway, so why don't we tweak the issues they're reading and writing about so they're global? It's the same courses, it's just different perspectives." There are also no full-time positions associated with the program at either college—Korbelak at HCC and Stacie Miller and Encarni Trueba at CCBC each receive course-release time to serve as coordinators for their campuses' programs.

After less than three years, the programs don't have sufficient assessment data to yield statistically significant results, but faculty and staff at both schools are optimistic about what they've seen. They hope to make Global Distinction a more formal honor, something that could be noted on diplomas and transcripts, and to spread the word about the program so that four-year colleges are aware of what it signifies when they're looking at transfers, and eventually to implement the program at all of Maryland's community colleges. They also want to get the word out to employers—Svacina mentions AAC&U's surveys of business leaders, which indicate that employers are looking to hire graduates with more global competencies. The program received a major boost in awareness when the schools were honored this year with both the Diana Hacker Reaching Across Borders award and the Andrew Heiskell Award for Innovation in International Education. Community colleges from North Carolina to New York have contacted Korbelak and Miller for information about setting up their own programs, and schools as far away as London have expressed interest.

But Miller stresses that there are benefits for the students that go beyond their immediate transfer prospects or employability. "As our students increase their intercultural understanding, competencies, and sensitivity, that can only have a positive impact, on their personal lives and eventually beyond."

Community College of Baltimore County, Howard Community College